A doubt, a provocation, an experience. All opinions

The mission statement itself says (copy and paste): “Most young Europeans, after all, continue to turn up for voting (80% according to Eurobarometer), and a significant minority (one person in 20) is active in a political party or organization.” Therefore I wonder: are young people really dropping out of traditional politics? Or is it simply that until a couple of decades ago, during the Cold War, traditional politics were different? Young people will, on average, tend to be slightly more “extreme”, so to speak; in my opinion until some 20 years ago, at least in western Europe which is the reality I know directly, traditional parties covered a wider political spectrum. One could be quite close to the extremes of the spectrum and still be represented, at least in part, by a political party. Only really, really extreme fringes were completely outside of the political organisations. Since the end of the Cold War, the political spectrum has immensely narrowed following (consciously or not) the American model, where both parties who contest the elections with a chance of winning them are slightly right of centre, one more so than the other. Thus more and more chunks of people - not only the young, I think - do not feel represented. Participation will be and very clearly is stronger when there is something concrete to fight for that can reasonably be achieved through the standard political means - just look at how participations in party politics is growing today in Scotland, where a drive towards a referendum for independence from the United Kingdom has started. Unless there is something “big” to work towards on a national basis, younger people usually get involved in politics on a local basis, often in order to reach a specific target, and once such target is reached several will drop out. Some will keep working in a party or a political organisation, others will end up running for office. It is a matter of wanting something. Also (and finally), probably because of the conversion towards the centre of party politics I mentioned above, politics are growing more and more “serious”. A young person who comes from a family of little or no political culture, even though they don’t encourage him/her to refuse politics out of principle, will hardly feel compelled to take up an interest. I guess it might be a cycle. We’ll see how it goes on.

What is it you see?

Well, Marco, you don’t really need to wonder about that: as I understand it, you are involved in politics yourself. You are in Scotland: what is it you see? Do you participate personally? Do you know young people getting involved in the referendum, or is your source a statistical one?

Speaking of statistics, here’s a thought. You say sometimes young people get involved in traditional politics to reach a goal and drop out of the process once the objective is achieved: a referendum is a good example. It seems to me that in the past different forms of participation correlated very well across each other: a higher turnout at the election in a certain category of people typically was associated with likelihood to be member of a party, or a trade union (to a lesser degree). When I was young, many environmentalists in Italy claimed that caring about the environment would lead one directly to militating for the political left, via the interconnection between environmental threats and global capitalism. In those days you would expect a high correlation between  being a member of an environmentalist group and being a political activist.

Now it seems that correlation is breaking down. Some young people who are passionately involved with one issue, but don’t care much about others. The same party might fight with its country’s young on one issue, against them on another.

And here’s another statistics-oriented thought: maybe loyalty does not kick in because traditional parties organize the older citizens, and in the current economic climate the interests of pensioners and young adults are perceived as potentially conflicting. According to its founder Rick Falkwinge, the Swedish Pirate Party gained 8% at the latest European elections, but was the most voted party by voters aged 30 and under. Same for trade unions: already in 2003 the median age for union members in the EU was 40 (44 in Italy, 43 in Sweden); in the same year almost 50% of Italian union members were not active workers, but pensioners. I have heard that this figure is now more like 60%, but I have not been able to find a reference online.

This might be another way that political diversity got reduced: 40- and 50somethings got overrepresented, young people got underrepresented and defected.


Good points all of them.

In recent years I have noticed many young people (in their 20s and younger) getting involved in Scottish politics. I mean, I see young people distributing leaflets or organising meetings. Many join parties (mostly the SNP), many more support specific campaigns. And yes, several of them will drop out of politics once the issue they cared for is solved. But some will stay.

I think that the idea that politics “cater for the old” and the fact that less and less young people get involved is a negative loop we are getting stuck in: young people don’t get involved because it is “stuff for old people”, and it is more aimed to the older generation because there are less young people involved.

Negative loops exist

Dead right: it’s a negative loop. The less young people get into politics the weaker their representation becomes, the weaker their incentive to get into politics. But that does not make it less real! Self-reinforcing dynamics are, i would say, more the rule than the exception in so much of the social world.

How do we change this pattern?

Too often the young become unhappy because they have no mechanisms to amplify their voices, to gain an equal footing with those that are more established, those that have more money behind them.

We need platforms that enable citizens of all ages to come together in a manner whereby they can “amplify their voices” in a meaningful, and recognizable way.  Today’s ideation platforms, with the ability to vote up/down ideas, are already starting to show results

Have you checked out the We The People site being used in the US?  While not perfect it is a very good start, a model perhaps, for other governments to consider.